Firms often attribute their service employees’ competent performance to either dedicated effort or natural talent. However, it is unclear how such practices affect customer evaluations of service employees and customer outcomes. Moreover, prior work has primarily examined attributions of one’s own performance, providing little insight on the impact of attributions of others’ performance. Drawing on research regarding the warmth–competence framework and performance attributions, the current research proposes and finds that consumers expect a more communal-oriented and less exchange-oriented relationship when a service employee’s competent performance is attributed to dedicated effort rather than natural talent, as effort (vs. talent) attribution leads consumers to perceive the employee as warmer. The authors further propose customer helping behaviors as downstream consequences of relationship expectations, finding that effort (vs. talent) attribution is more likely to induce customers’ word-of-mouth and idea provision behaviors. The findings enrich existing literature by identifying performance attributions as a managerially meaningful antecedent of relationship expectations and offer practical guidance on how marketers can influence consumers’ relationship expectations and helping behaviors.
- Ph.D., Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- MBA, Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
- M.S., KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology) Business School, Korea
- B.S., KAIST, Korea
Sara Kim’s research focus is on consumer and managerial decision making and its implications for marketing management. She is particularly interested in antecedents of consumers’ sense of self including self-affirmation, identity threats, mortality salience, and implicit theories of personality, and the impact of consumers’ sense of self on various consumer judgments and behaviors such as consumer emotions, word-of-mouth, prosocial behavior, and anthropomorphism. Her work has appeared in such publications as Journal of Consumer Research and Psychological Science. Her research has received media coverage by outlets such as New York Times, Time, Science Daily, and Medical News Today.
Sara Kim received her BBA and MS from KAIST (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology), as well as her MBA and PhD from Chicago Booth. She joined the University of Hong Kong in 2012.
- Introduction to Marketing
- Marketing Research
- Applied Marketing Research Metrics
- Marketing Management
- Humanization (Anthropomorphism)
- Emoticons/emojis in online service encounters
- Dehumanization of service employees or consumers
- Implicit theories and attribution theory
- Yongju Kwon, Youjae Yi, and Sara Kim, “Perceived Economic Mobility Increases Subjective Well-Being When Perceived Social Support Opens the Door for Others,” International Journal of Consumer Studies, forthcoming.
- Lili Wang, Sara Kim, and Xinyue Zhou, “Money in a “Safe” Place: Money Anthropomorphism Increases Saving Behavior,” International Journal of Research in Marketing, forthcoming.
- Jacob C. Lee, Sara Kim, and Phyllis Xue Wang (2022), “Anthropomorphizing Makes Material Goods as Happiness-inducing as Experiences,” Marketing Letters, 33 (1), 61-73.
- Fine F. Leung, Sara Kim, and Caleb H. Tse (2020), “Highlighting Effort Versus Talent in Service Employee Performance: Customer Attributions and Responses,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (3), 106–121.
- Li, Xueni (Shirley), Kimmy Wa Chan, and Sara Kim (2019), “Service with Emotions: How Customers Interpret Employee Use of Emoticons in Online Service Encounters,” Journal of Consumer Research, 45 (5), 973–987.
- Zhou, Xinyue, Sara Kim, and Lili Wang (2019), “Money Helps When Money Feels: Money Anthropomorphism Increases Charitable Giving,” Journal of Consumer Research, 45 (5), 953–972.
- Kim, Sara and Ann L. McGill (2018), “Helping Others by First Affirming the Self: When Self-Affirmation Reduces Ego-Defensive Downplaying of Others’ Misfortunes,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44 (3), 345–358.
- Kim, Sara, Ke Zhang, and Daeun Park (2018), “Don’t Want to Look Dumb? The Role of Theories of Intelligence and Humanlike Features in Online Help-Seeking,” Psychological Science, 29 (2), 171-180. *Leading article
- Kim, Sara, Rocky Peng Chen, and Ke Zhang (2016), “Anthropomorphized Helpers Undermine Autonomy and Enjoyment in Computer Games,” Journal of Consumer Research, 43 (2), 282-302.
- Daeun Park and Sara Kim (2015), “Time to Move On? When Entity Theorists Perform Better than Incremental Theorists,” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41 (5), 736-748.
- Kim, Sara and Ann L. McGill (2011), “Gaming with Mr. Slot or Gaming the Slot Machine? Power, Anthropomorphism, and Risk Perception,” Journal of Consumer Research, 38 (1), 94-107.
- Kim, Sara and Aparna A. Labroo (2011), “From ‘Inherent Value’ to ‘Incentive Value’: When and Why Pointless Effort Enhances Consumer Preference,” Journal of Consumer Research, 38 (4), 712-742.
- Labroo, Aparna A. and Sara Kim (2009), “The ‘Instrumentality’ Heuristic: Why Metacognitive Difficulty Is Desirable During Goal Pursuit,” Psychological Science, 20 (1), 127-134.
- Park, Do-Hyung and Sara Kim (2009), “The Effects of Consumer Knowledge on Message Processing of Electronic Word-Of-Mouth via Online Consumer Reviews,” Electronic Commerce Research and Applications, 7 (4), 399-410.
- 2021 Faculty Research Postgraduate Supervision Award
- 2018-19 University Research Excellence Award (Outstanding Young Researcher Award)
- 2016 University Teaching Excellence Award (Early Career Teaching Award)
- 2016 ACR Best Working Paper Award
- 2014-15 Faculty Outstanding Teacher Award (Undergraduate Teaching)
- 2015 RGC GRF Grant, Principal Investigator
- 2013 RGC Early Career Scheme, Principal Investigator
Opinion piece by Dr. Sara Kim, Associate Professor in Marketing
Across five studies, the current research demonstrates that imbuing money with humanlike characteristics can enhance charitable giving. Based on mind perception theory, we propose that anthropomorphizing money can induce people to attribute to money the capacity to feel and sense (i.e., warmth) and the capacity to do things (i.e., competence). Further, we argue that enhanced warmth perception increases charitable giving. Studies 1a and 1b provided initial evidence that money anthropomorphism increased charitable giving by measuring real monetary donation behavior (study 1a) and by adopting a practical method to anthropomorphize money in charitable appeals (study 1b). Study 2 showed that money anthropomorphism enhanced both warmth and competence perceptions of money, but that only enhanced warmth perception increased donation intention. Study 3 showed that money anthropomorphism did not enhance other types of charitable giving, such as signature provision. Study 4 showed that the money anthropomorphism effect was unique to money and that anthropomorphizing other financial instruments, such as a credit card, did not induce the same effect.
Virtually no research has examined the role of emoticons in commercial relationships, and research outside the marketing domain reports mixed findings. This article aims to resolve these mixed findings by considering that emoticon senders are often simultaneously evaluated on two fundamental dimensions, warmth and competence, and the accessibility of one dimension over the other is critically contingent on salient relationship norms (communal vs. exchange norms) in customers’ minds due to individual and situational factors. Through laboratory and field experiments, the current research shows that customers perceive service employees who use emoticons as higher in warmth but lower in competence compared to those who do not (study 1). We further demonstrate that when a service employee uses emoticons, communal-oriented (exchange-oriented) customers are more likely to infer higher warmth (lower competence) and thus to be more (less) satisfied with the service (study 2). We also examine two practically important service situations that can make a certain type of relationship norm more salient: unsatisfactory services (study 3) and employees’ extra-role services (study 4). We speculate on possible mechanisms underlying these effects and discuss theoretical and practical implications along with opportunities for future research.